Betrayed by politics
The riot-affected Muslims of western Uttar Pradesh are tired of being merely a vote bank
Driving nearly 100 km from Delhi on the six-laned National Highway 1, a sharp turn to the right at Panipat leads to Kairana. The small but smooth road runs through the fields of Samalkha abundant with green wheat stalks and village houses leading to the Yamuna river. Away from the busy highway, it is a predominantly rural setting in Haryana but with signs of urbanisation fast catching up. Across the river, the road gives way to potholes that can pass off as craters. The contrast is palpable. The number of houses on either side of the road is greater, their size smaller. Kairana is another neglected corner of India’s most populous state.
Once known for the famous Kirana gharana of Hindustani classical music and long forgotten, it made it to the headlines in September last year as Muslim refugees from parts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli began converging here to live in refugee camps after mindless violence and fear spread in those areas. Seven out of every 10 people here are Muslim. The literacy rate across the river in Samalkha is 68 per cent. It drops to 29 per cent here. The population in the neighbouring tehsil in Haryana is about 30,000—nearly one-third of Kairana’s.
Intezaar Khan, 21, is a broad-shouldered young man. In his white shirt, jeans and prayer cap, he looks the kind of youth any political party would want to feature in its advertisements and talk about his empowerment. Only, Khan is not among the 29 per cent here who can sign their names. It is hard to list what his aspirations are in the way political parties talk of them. He doesn’t own a mobile phone or a house. Khan lives in his father’s home and intends to stay there even after his family decides he should get married.
“I never bothered to go to school. No one at home ever asked us and I never volunteered. This is what works here,” he says sticking his thumb up and grinning broadly. His work as a scooter mechanic at the roadside workshop in Peerzadgan Mohalla earns him Rs 1,500 a month. If it wasn’t for the mango season that he spends every year travelling to gather and pluck fruits for Rs 7,000 a month in orchards across Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, he wouldn’t have enough to eat.
Khan has voted twice—in the Assembly and municipal polls—but can’t recall who he voted for and doesn’t know who his MP is. What he does know, however, is that there are older and wiser men at the local mosque he must listen to while making that decision. Samiullah Khan, 38, is one of them. He is the naib at the Madrasa Ishatul Islam that houses the mosque. A large complex with an open courtyard, it turned into a refugee camp last year when Muslim families from Muzaffarnagar began fleeing the villages after widespread violence between the Jats and the Muslims, says Samiullah. He got his degree in
“I never went to school. No one at home ever asked us and I never volunteered. This’s what works here.” INTEZAAR KHAN Mechanic
MUZZAFARNAGARSHAMLI Aboy at Madrasa Ishatul Islam at Kairana in Shamli Maulviyat from Deoband and returned in 2001 to manage the madrasa started by his father Niyamat Khan in 1961. Samiullah has 12 siblings—three of them women. Five of the brothers work in the madrasa.
Even at this relatively young age, Samiullah is a community leader of sorts. “When Mayawati comes to power, there are no riots. The Muslims feel safe but she neglects them. When Mulayam Singh Yadav rules the state, he does a lot for Muslims but there are riots. Our choices are tough,” he says. “A lot of Muslims have started sending their children to English-medium schools now. The future generations will make their own choices,” he adds.
But right now there are many who rely on Samiullah and his elder brother Barkatullah for counsel. After the camps were disbanded and many re-
fused to go back to their homes, their number has only increased. Among them, Tehseen Qureishi, 43, and his brother Mohammed Kalim, 38, face an uncertain future. The two brothers moved with their mother, wives and six children from Bahudi village on the night of September 8, 2013. Their house in Bahudi has been taken over by the neighbours. “There was tension in the area. It was hard to sift rumour from fact but the fear was unmistakable,” says the elder brother. The family has occupied an unfinished house on the outskirts of Shamli. “We will not go back. I have already admitted one child in a school here,” says Qureishi. He was among a group of refugees who met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam in Lucknow after the riots. Even as he prepares the documents to seek compensation from the government, he makes no effort to hide his bitterness. “The government betrayed us by not acting fast enough to contain the violence. The politicians think of us as a vote bank, not human beings,” he says.